Bangladesh's success in economic growth over the past decade has been tremendous, but it will not be sustainable without decentralisation of power, said economists.
To prevent corruption and foster development at all levels, the local government system needs to be strengthened, they added, while speaking on the first day of the 4th South Asia Economic Network Conference at BRAC Centre Inn, Dhaka today.
Titled “Subnational Finances and Local Service Delivery,” the conference was jointly organised by South Asian Network for Economic Modelling (SANEM), South Asia Economic Policy Network, and The World Bank.
A total of four sessions were held on the first day on decentralisation of power, Bangladeshi perspective and other South Asian countries’ experiences.
Three papers were presented at the first session, titled “Local government finances and service delivery.” The presenters were Dr Manish Gupta from the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, India; Dr Gopi K Khanal from the National Natural
Resources and Fiscal Commission, Nepal; and Dr Monzur Hossain from the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS).
While presenting his paper on “Does democratic local governance facilitate local economic development? Evidence from Bangladesh,” Dr Monzur pointed out that a signiﬁcant gap exists between the claims of union parishads and the perceptions of citizens on their governance.
Former governor of Bangladesh Bank, Dr Atiur Rahman, chaired the session.
In his concluding remarks, he said: “Bangladesh is one of the most centralised countries in the world, where the share of local governance expenditures in the budget is only 7%, although the growth is tremendous. But the goals, which are even bigger – such as the upper-middle-income country status – complete eradication of poverty and decentralisation are more important for Bangladesh in the recent context.”
In Bangladesh, administrative decentralisation is kind of acceptable, but there is no economic decentralisation in sight, he commented.
“As a result, people’s opinions are not reflected in policy. Therefore, local government must be strengthened to ensure sustainable development,” Atiur observed.
Following that, in the second session, Dr Robert Beyer, an economist at the South Asia Office of the Chief Economist at the World Bank, presented a preview of South Asia Economic Focus (Fall 2019 edition).
During his presentation, Dr Beyer said: “In complex and diverse countries, one size doesn’t fit all. The economies get complex with the development.”
He also discussed the opportunities and challenges that decentralisation offers for South Asian economies, pointing out that decentralisation offers opportunities for South Asia, but different countries face different challenges.
SANEM Executive Director, Dr Selim Raihan, chaired the session.
The third session of the day, themed “Fiscal decentralization and corruption,” accommodated two papers by Panchali Banerjee of Jadavpur University, India and Dr Bushra Yasmin of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Pakistan.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of World Bank Bangladesh, chaired the session.
This session was followed by a special lecture on “Pakistan’s new initiatives in devolution to local governments” by Dr Ishrat Husain, advisor for Institutional Reforms and Austerity to Prime Minister of Pakistan.
In his concluding remarks on the overall session, Dr Zahid Hossen said decentralisation is essential to reduce corruption and foster sustaining development.
“Therefore, decentralisation of politics, administration and finance has to be ensured equally.”
Additionally, there should have been a space for civil society to voice their concern. “Otherwise, corruption will be equally decentralised with decentralisation of power,” observed Dr Zahid.
Two papers were presented in the last session on “Urban planning and service delivery,” chaired by Dr Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
The presenters were Leena Bhattyacharya, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, India; and Dr Bilesha Weeraratne, Institute for Policy Studies, Sri Lanka.
Earlier, in the morning, Planning Minister Muhammad Abdul Mannan inaugurated the two-day conference.
He said: “The colonial trend has always been to facilitate the urban areas – 90% of the benefits from development policies would go to the urban areas. This was a social structure that needed to be changed after the colonial masters left.”
Among others, Dr Mercy Miyang Tembon, World Bank’s country director for Bangladesh and Dr Hans Timmer, World Bank's chief economist for South Asia, were also present at during the inauguration.